Autism Spectrum Disorders and Diet
By: Courtney Darsa, RDN, CDN
Lately, in the world of nutrition, there has been much buzz about how diet affects behavior in children with autism. Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disorders that appear within the first three years of life. These disorders usually involve issues with social interaction, communicating with others, and challenges with behavior. The latest diets that have been discussed with autism are gluten-free diets and casein-free diets. It is said that both of these diets have shown to have positive results for behavioral interventions and help with autism therapy. Is this true, can gluten-free and/or casein-free diets really help improve or reduce behaviors associated with autism?
The Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) Diet
The GFCF diet is a diet free of foods in gluten as well as foods free in casein. Since many individuals with autism have gastrointestinal issues or sensitivities and food allergies, the GFCF diet was introduced to help ease these physiological symptoms. Research and studies have also suggested that when a diet is free of these ingredients, behavioral symptoms are also greatly diminished.
What is Gluten? What is Casein?
Gluten is a type of protein, which is found in wheat and other grains, such as barley and rye. Individuals, who follow a gluten free diet, cannot consume foods with these ingredients. Checking ingredient labels is always important! Casein is a protein that is found in milk and milk products, such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and whey products. Some foods that are gluten-free and casein-free are: chicken, fish, and meat; fruits and vegetables; potatoes, rice, and rice cereal; and cereal and pasta labeled as “gluten free”. These foods are safe for the child following a GFCF diet to consume.
Following a GFCF diet is not easy because many everyday food products contain both gluten and casein. By subtracting these proteins from the child’s diet, they are missing key nutrients for growth and development, particularly, calcium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin D, and the vitamin B complex. It is important for a child to consume a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to obtain the essential vitamins and minerals for growth.
Does the GFCF Diet actually improve behaviors associated with autism?
According to a study done by the Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology, it is possible that following a gluten-free and casein-free diet can improve behavioral symptoms. It was observed that 54% of the participants in the study reported an improvement in their symptoms. The study was not completely accurate and had limitations because of a small number of participants and a short diet intervention period. Another study conducted by the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, suggests that the GFCF dietary intervention for relieving some behavioral symptoms associated with autism is likely, but more research must be done to confirm it’s validity.
Overall, from research that was been recently carried out, the gluten free and casein free diet seems promising in helping with a positive intervention for autism. With that being said, every child reacts to new things differently and it is important to keep a diet and behavior journal to track the progress of the child. Tracking his or her results, will allow for the parent/guardian to be distinguish what is not working so that improvements can be made to get the child back on track!
Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Nutrition. Book your appointment today!
Here is some additional gluten free information:
Seung, HyeKyeung, Yvonne Rogalski, Meena Shankar, and Jennifer Elder. “The Gluten-Free and Casein-Free Diet and Autism: Communication Outcomes From a Preliminary Double-Blind Clinical Trial.” Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology 15.4 (2007): 337-345. Print.
Whiteley, Paul, Paul Shattock, Ann-Mari Knivsberg, Anders Seim, Karl Reichelt, Lynda Todd, Kevin Carr, and Malcolm Hooper. “Gluten- and Casein-Free Dietary Intervention for Autism Spectrum Conditions.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6.344 (2012): 1-34. Frontiers in Human Medicine. Pub, 4 Jan. 2013.